Illustration by Philippe Herndon

There’s a format letter for endorsement requests that somehow must have leaked from some half-assed seminar on the topic. Sometimes we builders will exchange screenshots of these and laugh when they go awry. “Hello (insert company)! I’m a huge fan of (pedal you don’t make) and would love to get an endorsement from (not your company).”

Racing past any confusion about who exactly is supposed to endorse whom, these writers will bullet point accomplishments, often emphasizing performances for audiences who could not care less what guitar gear is involved and mentioning other companies that are purportedly “endorsing” them. I sometimes follow up with people I know to discover if somebody is trying the old childhood trick: “Dad, mom said I could go out! Mom, dad said I could go out!”

The promise of “exposure” for a donation of gear and “hypeing (sic) you guys up” via social media mentions is the prize offered. In lieu of bill payments, I’d once considered making a similar offer to my old landlords or utility companies. I mean, wouldn’t the fans of a small boutique guitar pedal manufacturing outfit just love to know about the raddest, most dope property management company ever, or how our municipal water company has the bestest super awesome meters? Sure, money can buy you food, but you just can’t eat that quality of exposure!

I can’t hold the hustle against them. Heck, the longer I see this game, the more I forgive any musician for trying to score any kind of deal, because everyone else takes advantage of them. Opening slot club gigs for touring musicians don’t pay anything more than they did 20 years ago, while the inflation calculators show that a dollar only goes about 63 cents as far. I hear stories from touring musicians about dumpster diving outside of fast food places, hoarding leftovers, sleeping on strangers’ floors or inside the van with a small space heater running. I look at friends who have millions of Spotify streams and hundreds of dollars to show for it. I see artists headlining festival stages and leaving crammed into cars worth less than a pedalboard. I see the total physical album and download sales of the top releases for the year and think, “Man, that might’ve been a second-hour Headbangers Ball band in the 1980s.”

I believe that a musician’s work is worth paying for and,
in that spirit, so is ours.

I believe that a musician’s work is worth paying for and, in that spirit, so is ours. So if you’re interested in some sort of “deal,” and an actual working relationship with a company, here are some recommendations.

Buy stuff you genuinely like and put it to use. We know your money is tight. But there’s nothing that creates a sense of value for something you like more than paying for it, and nothing that refines your tastes quite like discovering what it didn’t do for you. Don’t be freaked out by all the latest trends in gear world. I regularly see posts of pedalboards from a few years back with a “Can you believe how lame my old setup was?” caption, and they actually look better than many boards at sold-out venues. Finding the right combination of tools—with even just one or two really cool, special pieces—can make the whole thing sing, and as you continue to focus and refine your craft and performances, you’ll see the gear as just a means to an end, and not some end in itself.

Let the builders you truly like know it. I have a folder of emails for those times when it seems nothing goes right. It could be a design that didn’t work, an incurious novice publicly putting our quality control on blast because of a rattling battery clip, or the long summer months where everyone is outside enjoying the weather and retailers aren’t ordering anything. When people tell us they value our work, when our work gets tagged in photos that get shared, we tend to notice and remember from whom it came. That leads to our final tip.

To quote H.I. from Raising Arizona, “It’s all about who knows who, and then ... there’s favoritism.” It was once said of former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson that he treated all his players equally, but some more equally than others. Most builders I know take pride in not giving people stuff for free or handing out “artist pricing” like candy. We believe that every customer our retailers sell to is an artist. I mean, who else would buy our weird shit? But when we see an email from a guy who’s busting ass on tour or recording an EP—who genuinely knows, likes, and uses our stuff—and I see we had a blemished enclosure that got damaged in shipping, a refurb that we replaced for a retailer, or a demo piece from a trade show board.... I might just give him first crack at taking it off our hands.

Sure, there are still some companies running the old playbook, where an artist bangs the drum for a company and the company takes all the credit for the sound of that artist. But most of us post the names of noteworthy customers who use our stuff simply to say, “They can count on us. So can you.” It’s the 21st century. We all must hustle and “exposure” isn’t going to keep the lights on at either of our houses. Now put down that form letter and go write some hits. There are Spotify investors counting on you!